Andrey Novakov: Mobility Package supporters seek to eliminate competition

A large number of them are in election campaigns and intend to use its adoption to further their own political agenda

Photo: EP Andrey Novakov

What is transpiring with the Mobility Package is unprecedented in the history of the EP - never have MEPs been so strongly and irreversibly divided. I do not believe that it is possible for the MEPs on the Transport Committee to go over all the amendments and synthesize them in a way that they can be voted in such a short time. At stake is the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people, so it would be criminal to approach the issue from a purely bureaucratic standpoint and with haste, says Andrey Novakov, Bulgarian MEP from EPP/GERB, in an interview with Europost.

- Mr Novakov, do you think that postponing the vote on the Mobility Package I and returning the legislative initiatives to the European Parliament's Transport Committee, with a view to putting them to the full house on 3-4 April, is a victory for Bulgaria and the other Member States of the EU periphery that have been urging for a more in-depth discussion and finding reasonable compromises?

- The idea of having an in-depth discussion and finding a compromise solution for one of the most controversial files, and in the last few weeks of the current European Parliament's term at that, is an illusion. The EP is divided into national camps and no one has any intention of giving ground. Meaningful and constructive discussion on the topic has long ended and now it's not even a matter of transport issues but of common sense. I have embraced the fight against the Mobility Package as my personal mission for the past two years and any small advancement en route to scrapping this file, or approving it in a version that is palatable in terms of Bulgarian interests, is a step closer to the end goal. I believe that the 27 March development is yet another tactical progress for Bulgaria and another step forward. This is not the final result yet, but one thing is certain: we, the Bulgarian MEPs, are united by a common cause and continue to fight side by side with the country's hauliers.

- When several days ago the overwhelming sentiment was to vote a text featuring over 1,600 amendments in such a short time, you said it would be “rolling the dice”. Why do you think there is such hurry?

- The attempt to vote on a legislative package once again after three rejections clearly reflects the hard stance of a certain group of countries, which are pushing for its adoption at any cost. They seek to eliminate their strongest competition - the transport companies and hauliers from Central and Eastern Europe. All of this is carefully cloaked in arguments about the common European interest and the European workers' well-being.

What should not be forgotten is the fact that a large number of the Mobility Package supporters are in election campaigns and intend to use its adoption to further their own political agenda.  

- As early as last year, the three highly contested bills were returned by the MEPs. In January of this year, only one of them was approved by the Transport Committee. Does this current insistence to vote on the package send a bad message, even as an exception to the rule, about the way EU laws are forged, and just two months before the European Parliament election at that?

- This approach shows attempts to violate basic rules and regulations for the functioning of the EP. In this situation, EP President Antonio Tajani's response - postponing the package's voting and giving us more time to act - was the right thing to do. What is transpiring with the Mobility Package is unprecedented in the history of the EP - never have MEPs been so strongly and irreversibly divided.

I do not believe that it is possible for the MEPs on the Transport Committee to go over all the amendments and synthesize them in a way that they can be voted in such a short time. At stake is the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of people, so it would be criminal to approach the issue from a purely bureaucratic standpoint and with haste. Whatever the case may be, we will fight until the end to ensure that the package is considered by the next EP, by new European representatives with fresh ideas.

- What is the goal of the supporters of the three bills, some of whom concede that the texts are pretty poorly drafted?

- The goal of the Mobility Package supporters is the same as that of its opponents - protecting the national interests. The difference is that the main ideas of its supporters boil down to protectionism and an attempt to eliminate the strong competition from the transport sector of Central and Eastern Europe. For us, the opponents of the Mobility Package, the goal is not to destroy successful businesses in the EU but to preserve that thriving industry in Bulgaria. Our goal is to protect the livelihood of thousands of Bulgarian families and of thousands more in Central and Eastern Europe as well.

- You are the only MEP who has sat in the cabin of a truck over the entire course of its trip to perform a delivery, in order to get an idea of the challenges posed by the driver's job. Is it truly not better for drivers to be obligated to have their sleep in a hotel?

- Travelling from Brussels to Sofia by truck and thus sharing the daily routine of the Bulgarians who earn their pay as drivers, I had the chance to see for myself how difficult and exhausting this job is. I also came to the conclusion that the European Commission's proposals presented in the Mobility Package are impractical and even to the detriment of our hauliers. It would be best to allow the drivers the choice to decide where to sleep and where to go for their longer rests. It is unacceptable to require that the drivers sleep in a hotel and leave their truck unattended just because the tachograph signals that it is time to stop. In such cases the driver is confronted with two options - to leave the truck unattended right there on the spot indicated by the tachograph and go to a hotel or continue to drive to the closest hotel and therefore risk a huge fine in the event of an inspection. The driver is personally responsible for the transported goods.

- How do you view the arguments of the package's supporters that, if it is not adopted, Member States will start implementing their own measures and chaos will ensue?

- I sincerely hope that the supporters of the package are people who understand and believe in the EU values and recognise that such statements are inappropriate, to put it mildly. I also do not believe that this is the right moment for threats. What we need is time to have constructive dialogue, clarify all positions and reach a compromise - obviously, it is impossible to accomplish all this with under a month to go before the end of the current EP's term.

- Do the affected countries of Central and Eastern Europe have a 'useful move' or will they be forced to concede to the new rules which will evidently lead to mass bankruptcies of transport companies?  

- The countries of Central and Eastern Europe have equal rights with those of Western Europe. And despite the strong pressure which they experience with a view to this dossier and all efforts towards its adoption, we are still trying to stand our ground and refuse to stop. Our transport companies have proved they are the best in the sector, the more capable, and for this reason they are more efficient and popular. It is a pity, though, that there are people who believe that they can use the Mobility Package to fight with competitors. If the new rules are finally adopted, we are prepared not only to stage protests but also to apply to Court and not allow any of the Bulgarian companies to go bankrupt, not a single Bulgarian hauler to lose his livelihood and not a single Bulgarian family to suffer.

- You were the co-rapporteur on the legislative dossier which envisions having only one regulation covering the management of seven European funds related to the cohesion policies. What will be the added value from the introduction of the new rules as of 2021 for the beneficiaries of the EU funds?

- Behind all figures there are always people, families, Bulgarian regions, villages and cities, business communities and investors. The beneficial trends of the recent years will persist and will further maintain the European image of the Bulgarian economy and secure the rightful place for our country within the EU. The added value will be considerable and will affect many different spheres. Starting from the fact that for the next programming period, between 2021 and 2027, BGN 18 billion will be allotted to our country, which is the highest budget allocated for regional development, infrastructure, environment and employment since Bulgaria's EU accession; and ending with the approved proposal for European co-financing of the poorest and underdeveloped regions to amount to 85%, and not 70% as was proposed initially. It means that a municipality in the country would be paying for only 15% of a project's value. The funds allocated for cross-border cooperation have also been increased, which is of immediate benefit to Bulgaria having in mind numerous INTERREG projects which we are implementing together with Romania, Greece, Serbia and North Macedonia. The priority for future investments will be coping with the demographic crisis and poverty as well as providing support for the disabled people.

- With a view to the forthcoming European Parliament election, in your opinion, how correct are the prognoses that most MEP seats will be won by the populist and Eurosceptic parties while the representation of the traditional parties will dwindle?  

- I would not like to make such prognoses. The fact is that Europe is living through a specific period in its development. This period proved to be extremely beneficial for anti-European ideas and ideologies. Now it is time to take concrete actions and to nip the Eurosceptic moods which are very misleading for the citizens of Europe. The brightest example are the developments in Great Britain, namely Brexit. The citizens of Great Britain realised that they have been cheated by well-formulated and luring anti-European messages, and Brexit remains one of the most effective fake news. 

- In your opinion, how could we oppose Euroscepticism in the most efficient way?

- Only visible results can help us oppose Euroscepticism efficiently. This will always be the weightiest argument for the pro-European forces. The example of a “visible result” is, for instance, a new working policlinic in some Bulgarian village where 25,000 patients every year will have access to quality healthcare, or a central square in some Bulgarian town thoroughly renovated with European funds. We see a “visible result” when 120 young European entrepreneurs have a chance to take part in unilateral exchange programmes and go to study in the best companies in the US, Singapore and Israel. And, on top of that, to receive a €4,000 stipend thanks to the first Bulgarian EU programme which I promoted in 2016, A.L.E.C.O. A “visible result” will be two new EU programmes to be operational in 2019 - one for handling double standards for the goods offered on the market and the other for preventing odometer roll-back in used vehicles. All roads, schools and hospitals may tip the balance in favour of the pro-European concept and debunk the populist statements, which never offer solutions to any issue, as they are only empty propaganda ploys. More funds, stronger support for the Bulgarian villages and cities, more efficient protection for the Bulgarian consumers, more visible results - this is the most effective opposition to Euroscepticism.

- How will the regions most affected by Brexit be compensated for their losses?

- In the report on the General EU Funds Regulation after 2020, the EP backed my idea according to which the cohesion policy will be a safeguard measure for regions affected by Brexit. Just like in 2007-2013 the cohesion helped to mitigate the effect of the financial and economic crisis, so now we are prepared to cope with the side effects of the UK exit as well as to handle the future financial and economic crises. The EU funds will support all measures and programmes which will compensate as much as possible the investments, jobs, etc.

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Andrey Novakov is a Bulgarian MEP from the Group of EPP/GERB. He is a member of the EP Committee on Regional Development, serving as an EPP vice-coordinator, and substitute on the Committee on Budgets and the Committee on Budgetary Control. Lawyer by education, Novakov became the youngest member of the European Parliament (EP) upon taking up his duties. In the EP, he is a rapporteur on files related to the review of the multi-annual financial framework and the assessment of the Juncker Plan, the European Fund for Strategic Investments, the EU youth programme Erasmus+, etc. He was featured in the Politics category of the Forbes 30 under 30 list of the most successful young people. Novakov served two terms as vice-chairman of the European Democrat Students. Last April he was elected Chief Negotiator for the basic regulation for the European Structural and Investment Funds after 2020. 

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